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Last Updated: Monday, 2 February, 2004, 11:55 GMT
'Just text P-A-U-L to this five-digit number...'
DOT.LIFE - where tech meets life, every Monday
By Paul Rubens

Couple at party
"Here's my mobile domain name"
Want to pass on your contact details, whether to a friend, a potential date or a prospective client? There's no need to worry about lost scraps of paper or stray business cards any more.

You meet someone at a party and want to see them again. It used to be a case of fumbling around for a pen, scrawling your phone number on the back of a cigarette packet, and hoping they can read your writing.

But now there is a better way. With two-way texting, you can ask your prospective date to send your name to a five-digit number. Within seconds your full contact details will be texted back, and stored on their phone like an electronic visitor's card.

Two-way texting - sending a keyword to a short text number to receive an automated reply - is nothing new in itself. But up until now, it's been aimed at the corporate market, costing about 500 a month.

That's why its use has mainly been restricted to news agencies and large businesses. Their customers can sign up by text message to receive regular updates by text of the headlines, share prices or football scores. Interactive TV shows such as Big Brother have also used the service, allowing viewers to receive regular updates on goings-on and to vote for evictees.

But two-way texting is about to become very cheap indeed, now the service is to be offered and configured online. Next week iTagg launches a service aimed at small businesses and individuals, and many similar services are likely to appear over the coming months.

The iTagg service costs 9.99 a year to run, plus additional fees on texts either sent or received. If your friends or clients pay 8p to text the service, the response text will be free. If not, response texts can be charged at the premium rate of 25p each.

Keep in touch

The keywords texted to iTagg's five-digit number are called mobile domain names. Customers register this name online, just as they would an internet domain name, and then type in the information they want sent back as a response text.

Text message recieved
You decide who pays for response texts
Each domain name can have up to 20 secondary keywords, with different messages attached to each. If I registered the mobile domain name Paul, I could set up secondary keywords such as holiday or party. If someone texts "Paul holiday", they will receive my itinerary and temporary contact details for when I'm out of the country. Or if they have lost the invitation to my birthday bash, a text with "Paul party" will receive the time, date and venue, and could also include a WAP link to a map.

Two-way texting should also appeal to imaginative small businesses, says Steve Procter, managing director of London-based company Messages, which will operate iTagg.

Estate agents' sale boards could incorporate their mobile domain name and the address of the house as a sub-keyword, for instance. A potential buyer could send a text to receive details of the asking price, number of bedrooms, and the name and number of the agent dealing with the property.

And since all messages sent to a particular domain name appear in a log on the customer's web control panel, the estate agent knows who to call to arrange a viewing.

Posters for Alastair Campbell's show at a small theatre in South Sheilds
Want to keep track of what's on?
The technology could also be ideal for venues which stage different events each night, such as cinema clubs or local music halls.

Potential customers could text the venue's domain name and receive details of that evening's entertainment including price and start time - much more convenient than trying to remember a recorded phone message.

But anyone planning on getting rich from premium rate texts that customers, friends or potential dates could pay for, think again. The lion's share goes to the mobile phone networks; the company offering the service takes another cut. You'll make just 1p on each message.

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